Latest Sunshine Act bombshell: $6.5B in doc-and-hospital payments last year

The latest Sunshine Act numbers are out, and they're big: Drug and device companies handed over nearly $6.5 billion to doctors and teaching hospitals last year. The biggest share came in the form of research grants, which amounted to $3.23 billion, with royalty and licensing fees taking another big chunk.

Still, food, drinks and travel added up to $404 million, and consulting fees added up to $369 million.

Payouts from Roche ($RHHBY), Novartis ($NVS), Pfizer ($PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) were among the biggest. Roche shelled out $373 million, with a $250 million chunk of that going to City of Hope as royalties on its top medications. Through its pharma, vaccines and consumer units, Novartis paid out more than $300 million, with about $270 million of that in research payments and royalties.

Pfizer's payouts totaled $287.4 million, more than three-fourths of that for R&D work. Glaxo's $213 million total included $177 million in research payments.

Though the drugmakers' speaking fees, consulting payments and food-and-beverage bills may seem paltry compared with research grants and royalties, they still amount to tens of millions for each of the major drugmakers. AstraZeneca ($AZN), for instance, spent $72.5 million on "general payments," which include those categories. Pfizer's tally in that area amounted to more than $53 million. Allergan's ($AGN) general total was $47 million; AbbVie's ($ABBV), $40.5 million. GSK's amounted to $36 million, and Sanofi's ($SNY) about $23 million, including the vaccine business Sanofi Pasteur.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services gathers the payment info from drugmakers under a "sunshine" provision of the Affordable Care Act. The rules followed some high-profile scandals at top medical schools, where faculty members were accepting tens of thousands from pharma companies. Teaching hospitals cracked down on visits from pharma reps, and the state of Massachusetts went so far as to ban pharma handouts, putting the kibosh not only on big dinners, but on many of the tchotchkes drug reps distributed at doctors' offices and trade shows.

Some drugmakers were already required to disclose their financial relationships with doctors because of their off-label marketing settlements with the U.S. Justice Department, but the CMS' Open Payments database is the first to cover all U.S. drug and device companies.

- check out the Open Payments database
- see the CMS release

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